Psychological Investigation of Cultural Conflicts

Cultural Conflict

Why Inter-cultural Identity Conflicts require further Investigation

As globalization progresses, inter-cultural conflicts are bound to increase, not decrease, in many forms affecting the life-trajectories of entire populations. Between-cultures factors range from violent conflict to crime and terrorism (Freilich et al., 2006), socio-economic competition, immigrant and minority struggles to issues of cultural homelessness (Hersting & Jenkins, 2011), loss of cultural identity and subsequent erosion of individual identity, poverty and social exclusion. Cultures discontinue existing in isolation which is the central reason why cross-cultural psychology needs to address multi-cultural interactions affecting individual life-span development, e.g., investigating the developmental pathways for constituting or eroding identity across life-span for members of a minority population. Subsequent psychological interventions would be targeted towards increasing cross-cultural competence, problem-solving skills and supporting mediation (Magala, 2005, Garcia, 2013).

Recommended Research Methods

Inter-cultural conflicts are messy by definition since they enmesh cultural, political and socio-economic elements interwoven with autobiographies, ‘real events, real lives, real people’ (Robinson & Smith, 2010, p.174) which deserves investigation under panhuman perspective (Yau-Fai & Wu, 2001, p.5). Methodologically this excludes the option of a merely emic, culture-specific approach, although the unique structures of participating cultures need to be taken into account. It is also not possible to arbitrarily pick an overarching standard theoretical model as it might be biased towards one culture and not another, requiring the justified bracketing of emerging theorics controlling for both emic variations and etic consistencies (Yau-Fai & Wu, 2001, p.7). Cultural change under interactive, multi-cultural perspective requires thus the development of new and novel methodologies. For example, multiple developmental pathways require under universal perspective the pluralizing of life-phases (e.g., identity formation for adult roles as in emerging adults(Jensen, 2012, p.100) while accounting for all possible logical relations such as in a criteria-adjustable Venn diagram (Goodsnow, 2011). Random sampling makes little sense under the aspect of designated social constructs affecting target populations, rendering purposive cross-cultural sampling among coherent communities as primary sampling units (PSU) a more sensible approach (Takooshiran & Mrinal, 2001, p. 39-40). Involving children supports the detection of universals (e.g., preceding scaffolding of multi-cultural identity) while assessing adults supports evidence for cultural diversity (e.g., for investigating multi-cultural identity pathways in adulthood) (Jensen, p.100).

Procedural Research in the Example of Cross-Cultural Competence (3C)

Relating the varying narratives and conflict perceptions of participating cultures is followed by modeling the dynamics that create and sustain the dysfunctional system in situ. Semi-structured interviews exploring both the experience of inter-cultural transaction as well as cross-cultural effects on populations would be conducted using social-constructivist Grounded Theory (GT) (Charmaz, 2008). The extraction of categories after coding and cross-analysis (Hill, 2011, p. 117) serves a dual purpose. Firstly, psychological outcomes (Yau-Fai & Wu, 2006, p.6) allow for grounded conflict modeling. Secondly, the extracted categories are used to define an item pool for testing e.g., Cross-Cultural Competence (3C), ensuring its ecological validity (Matsumoto, 2013, p.851). Additional Explanatory Factor Analysis, Principal Component Analysis or Confirmatory Factor Analysis needs to be carried out to ensure construct validity. 3C tests need cross-cultural validation whereby best-fit to obtained data needs to be established ad posteriori. Among the tests that have proven ecological validity for assessing 3C are CQ, ICAPS and MPQ (Matsumoto, p.867). Statistical verification of the mixed study design is calculated by MANCOVA. The advantage of such an approach is that it allows to run regressions e.g.of cultural- versus economic factor influence in the case of economic immigrants with little little or no acculturation efforts (Boski, 2013, p. 1069).

Main skills a researcher carrying out this type of study

A researcher using social-constructivist GT (Charmaz, 2008) requires experience and confidence to carry out interviews and selecting a competent, multi-lingual team for the coding the transcripts. Researchers need to be familiar with cross-analysis, identifying common themes across populations (Hill, p.117), the development of categories, audit of cross-analysis, able to check for stability and trouble-shooting the emerging model. Cultural sensitivity, impartiality and collaborative openness towards both cultures involved in cultural conflict would be a necessary prerequisite. Ideally an investigator who is him/ herself not involved in the conflict at hand would be preferable. Researcher’s potential bias needs to be measured via suitable psychometric tools and document their self-disclosure to add validity to the study (e.g., if we imagine conducting a study on political-cultural conflicts such as Israel and Palestine, any study would be scrutinized to the highest degree allowing for no loose ends).

Additional Considerations

Cultural change affecting identities occurs not only in the dimension of ecologies (Goodsnow, 2010) such as family, work or religious institutions, but also temporal dimension. E.g., rigid domains such as belief-systems and language may only change insignificantly on inter-generational scale, while non-rigid domains such as socio-economic status may vary significantly on inter- and intra-generational scale. More malleable psychological constructs such as cognitive models and behavior may change more significantly within the same generation. 

Application of Research

The proposed cross-cultural research may, if proven effective, serve as a generalizable psychological approach for mediating cultural conflicts, assisting the development of effective interventions and informing the employment of policies. Cultural conflicts can be methodologically related to individual compromise during life-span development, empowering subjective voice within a framework of systematic improvement.


Boski, P. (2013). A Psychology of Economic Migration. Journal Of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 44(7), 1067-1093.

Charmaz, K. (2008). Constructing grounded theory, a practical guide through qualitative analysis. Sage Publications Ltd

Freilich, J. D., & Guerette, R. T. (2006). Migration, culture conflict, crime, and terrorism [electronic book] edited by Joshua D. Freilich and Rob T. Guerette. Aldershot, Hants, England ; Ashgate, c2006.

Goodnow, J. J. (2011). Merging cultural and psychological accounts of family contexts. In L. A. Jensen (Ed.), Bridging cultural and developmental approaches to psychology: New syntheses in theory, research and policy (pp. 73–91). New York: Oxford UniversityJensen, L. A. (2012). Bridging universal and cultural perspectives: A vision for developmental psychology in a global world. Child Development Perspectives, 6(1), 98–104.

Magala, S. (2005). Cross-cultural competence [electronic book] / Sławomir Magala. London ; Routledge, 2005.

Matsumoto, D., & Hwang, H. (2013). Assessing Cross-Cultural Competence: A Review of Available Tests. Journal Of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 44(6), 849-873. doi:10.1177/0022022113492891

Ngo, B. (2008). Beyond “Culture Clash” Understandings of Immigrant Experiences. Theory Into Practice, 47(1), 4-11.

Garcia, A. (2013). Mediation Talk in Cross Cultural Perspective: The Contribution of Conversation Analysis. China Media Research, 9(4), 85-101.

Hill, C.E. (2011). Consensual Qualitative Research. Washington: American Psychological Association

Hoersting, R. C., & Jenkins, S. R. (2011). No place to call home: Cultural homelessness, self-esteem and cross-cultural identities. International Journal Of Intercultural Relations, 35(1), 17-30. doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2010.11.005

Robinson, O. C., & Smith, J. A. (2010). Investigating the form and dynamics of crisis episodes in early adulthood: The application of a composite qualitative method. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 7(2), 170–191

Takooshian, H., Mrinal, N. R., & Mrinal, U. S. (2001). Research methods for studies in the field. In. L. L. Adler, & U. P. Gielen (Eds.), Cross-Cultural Topics in Psychology, (2nd ed.,  pp. 29–46). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Yau-Fai, D., & Wu, M. (2001). Introduction to cross-cultural psychology. In. L. L. Adler, & U. P. Gielen (Eds.), Cross-Cultural Topics in Psychology (2nd ed., pp. 3–14). Westport, CT: Praeger.

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